The Constant Gardener

Based on a John Le CarrĂ© thriller, The Constant Gardener (IMDB) begins with the murder in Kenya of Tessa Quayle, wife of a mild-mannered British bureaucrat, Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes, who always seems incapable of romance, unless it’s in flashback). Like many Le CarrĂ© novels, Gardener traces the outlines of a vast conspiracy, this one involving the globalized pharmaceutical industry, with the British government presumably complicit. It’s an interesting Hollywood debut for the director of City of God, and while I liked City better, both films engage with power and economic inequality in interesting ways without being overwhelmingly pedantic.

After we learn of Tessa’s death, the film flashes back to Justin and Tessa’s first meeting, when the reticent Justin delivers a lecture for one of his colleagues. The passionate Tessa disrupts the question and answer session, criticizing the British government for its participation in the war in Iraq. Defeated and mildly embarassed by her passion, Tessa collpases in tears, with Justin staying to console her. Without giving too much of the film away, much of the film–and our perception of Tessa–hinges on this scene. Is Tessa simply a passionate woman who falls for the gentle Justin? Or does she have ulterior motives in marrying him? Justin’s faith in their relationship wavers when it’s implied that she may be having an affair with an African doctor, Arnold, with whom she seems to be spending a lot of time.

I won’t reveal the specifics of the conspiracy, other than to say that in places I found the conspiracy perhaps a little too narrow and too contained by the end of the film, although Le Carre’s novel (and the film itself) are certainly critical of the practice of big pharmaceuticals in testing drugs they know to be dangerous, usually on the poor. While I’m not quite ready to follow Ebert’s lead and say that it’s one of the best films I’ve seen this year, it’s certainly critical, almost to the point of cynicism, of the pharmaceutical industry’s exploitation of poverty in Africa.


  1. Freedom For Egyptians Said,

    October 8, 2005 @ 9:06 am

    This is my post on the Constant Gardener.Thought of sharing it.

  2. Chuck Said,

    October 8, 2005 @ 12:39 pm

    Thanks for the pointer. I haven’t seen “Hotel Rwanda” in about six months, but I certinly thought about that film while watching “Gardener,” a film I’m growing to appreciate more as I’ve spent more time thinking about it.

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